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Sanders’ endgame focused on keeping his ‘revolution’ alive

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US Senator Bernie Sanders left the Capitol Building after a Democratic policy caucus in Washington earlier this week.
US Senator Bernie Sanders left the Capitol Building after a Democratic policy caucus in Washington earlier this week.(NYT)

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders is not taking his revolution gently into that good night.

The Vermont senator is executing an intricate endgame to the Democratic primary that he hopes will continue to inspire the 12 million voters who flocked to him, while drawing lines in the political sand that Hillary Clinton and other establishment leaders won't dare to cross.

But come January, he will face an existential test: Can his self-proclaimed revolution survive the move from stadiums roaring with adoring fans to the wood-paneled congressional hearing rooms and private political offices of Washington?

Sanders' allies believe their colleague, a 25-year veteran of the House and Senate, returns to his job as a senator in Washington with new power to influence and shape policy on the issues he built his campaign on.

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Others doubt the longtime loner can transform himself into a skilled inside player just because he played the outside game so well for the past year.

Before his rise to progressive fame, Sanders "had a reputation for being cantankerous, difficult to work with, ill humored . . . he was kind of the Yosemite Sam of the Senate," said Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker, who has spent time working in Congress as well.

What's more, it's hard for an insurgent candidate to hold his followers together "outside the context of an actual campaign," said Baker. "He'll continue to have people who are devoted to him . . . but at the same time, he's going back to the Senate, with a completely different kind of environment."

Sanders' believers do not share these doubts. No sir, the revolution will continue.

For the #BernieOrBust crowd, many remain focused on the short-term fight, convinced their guy can still be the one. "A 3rd party/independent run is a real, viable option! We have the #s & $$ to make it happen!!" reads one sample Tweet.

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Sanders' higher-profile supporters, in contrast, have moved to Clinton's side in the wake of her June 7 primary wins, but they too believe Sanders and his movement do not end here.

"He's rightly focused on wanting to have maximum impact, not just in the election but after to reinvigorate the Democratic Party with young people and a progressive agenda," said Representative Peter Welch , a Vermont Democrat and Sanders supporter who is ready for Sanders to embrace Clinton sooner rather than later.

Welch believes conceding and endorsing Clinton — two steps Sanders still has not taken — would boost Sanders' negotiating stance. "All of us are anxious to get inside as soon as we can," he said.

Sanders doesn't look that anxious.

As he detailed again in a live-streamed address to supporters Thursday night, Sanders is working to wrest concessions from Clinton and the Democratic Party on the issues he built his campaign on, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and blocking trade deals he considers harmful to workers. Sanders also wants party leaders to change election rules so the presidential primaries are more inclusive and small-D democratic — and more favorable to an insurgent campaign like his.

"This is a persuasive process, and the way to accomplish that is to let these people know who have supported him that his ideas do count and they are taken into account," said a person familiar with Sanders' thinking.

There's a whiff of political kabuki in all this. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said Sanders seems intent on drumming up as much drama as he can — and that's a good thing for Clinton and the rest of the Democrats, as it means more coverage and eyeballs in Philadelphia, where the party will hold its national convention.

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"We all know that Hillary Clinton is the nominee, but Sanders can stay in there to make his moment more dramatic," he said. If Sanders waits until the convention to endorse, 100 million viewers will witness that moment, as opposed to 40,000 cable news junkies, he said. "Bernie Sanders wants a network television moment, not a dandruff brushoff on cable TV."

Sanders is also casting his gaze beyond Election Day.

"The political revolution means much more than fighting for our ideals at the Democratic National Convention and defeating Donald Trump," Sanders told more than 200,000 supporters who watched his live online remarks Thursday. "It means that, at every level, we continue the fight to make our society a nation of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice."

Sanders outlined a plan that included fostering "a new generation" of public servants to run for office or engage in activism at local and state levels.

"This is a movement that will continue in the streets with activists, and in Congress with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We must also keep the energy going by electing progressives at all levels of government — from city councils and school boards to governorships and Senate seats," Representative Keith Ellison , a Minnesota Democrat and an early Sanders endorser in Congress, said in an e-mail to the Globe.

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Primary challenges by other progressive candidates have suffered, however. Three congressional candidates Sanders endorsed in Nevada all lost their primary bids this week — and lost by a lot. The most prominent of these was Lucy Flores, the first Latina member of Nevada's Legislature, who had even appeared in a Sanders campaign ad.

A key race to watch is the August primary contest between Sanders-backed Tim Canova, a law professor, and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has become — at least in the minds of the Sanders campaign — the Vermont senator's nemesis in the party establishment. On the heels of a public endorsement from Sanders, Canova has reportedly raised more than $2 million, mostly in small-dollar donations, according to the candidate.

Sanders supporter Joe Behlendorf, 24, feels some concern that Sanders' revolution will dissipate.

But Behlendorf, who grew up in Burlington, Vt., and now lives in New York City, thinks it's more likely that the movement will adapt, much as the Occupy Wall Street movement morphed and fed into the wave that carried Sanders to unexpected wins in 22 state primaries and caucuses.

Behlendorf — who says he will either write in Sanders or vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, rather than vote for Clinton in the general election — said he has been trying to think of silver linings as Sanders prepares to concede. One he's come up with: Sanders can stay focused on the issues he cares most about, and use the new bully pulpit he has gained to activate his network of supporters when needed.

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"What is most important is that now Bernie has this platform, and he's earned the trust of this whole generation of people, and a lot more people in the country know who he is," said Behlendorf. So when Sanders speaks out or disagrees with the Democratic administration, whereas before no one would have noticed, "now literally the whole world is going to know. That's huge."


Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.